A portrait of Jesus was located in an entrance hallway to Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Ohio for over 65 years. The Freedom from Religion Foundation (“FFRF”) initially contacted the school by letter and informed the school that the picture was unconstitutional and that it should be removed. FFRF is a non-profit organization founded in 1978 and has as its stated mission, “Protecting the constitutional principle of the separation of state and church.” They have successfully litigated numerous cases over the years in this area of law. In a public statement, the superintendent of Jackson City School District responded to the letter from FFRF by saying that: (1) he refuses to remove the picture, (2) that it was a gift from a student organization that had been hanging for decades, and (3) that “it would take a court order to remove the picture.” Subsequently, the ACLU of Ohio also sent a letter to the District citing case law that required the picture’s removal.

The District then retained the Liberty Institute to “investigate and report” regarding the constitutionality of the presence of this picture in the school. The Liberty Institute is an organization founded in 1978 that describes itself as a non-profit law firm, “Dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America.” The Liberty Institute investigation concluded that the portrait belonged to a student group, the Hi-Y club, and the wall is a public forum open to student displays. The school board then adopted a new resolution affirming that the hallway where the portrait hung in the middle school is a limited public forum. It also created a limited public forum in the fine arts hallway of the high school.

On March 7, 2013, attorneys for the Hi-Y club requested that the portrait be moved to the high school. The attorneys argued that because the Hi-Y club owns the portrait, it should be located at the high school and not the middle school. The Jackson administration complied with Hi-Y’s request and moved the portrait to the high school on March 13, 2013.

Legal Theory

We are challenging the display and maintenance of the portrait as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Similar cases involving the sameportrait have ended with the portrait being removed.

Status Update

On February 7, 2013 we filed a complaint and a motion for a protective order to protect the plaintiffs’ anonymity. The motion for a protective order was granted on February 8, 2013. After Defendants moved the portrait to Jackson High School, we filed a motion for TRO. On April 3, 2013, the Court issued its Order and Nunc Pro Tunc Order to memorialize the parties’ stipulated agreement that Defendants agreed “to remove from Jackson High School by 5:00 p.m. and not display the portrait without agreement of the parties or a court order permitting its display. On May 7, 2013, Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs’ claim for injunctive relief, claiming mootness. On May 15, 2013, Plaintiffs filed their Motion to Show Cause why Defendants should not be cited for contempt of court for displaying the portrait and disregarding court orders. The Court granted Plaintiffs’ Motion to Show Cause on May 17, 2013. The Show Cause hearing was set for July 12, 2013.

Date filed

February 7, 2013